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17th Century Rules of Marriage

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Church of England. Constitutions and canons ecclesiasticall. London, 1604.

December 2001
Rebecca Field is a 7th grade teacher and administrator at the Julia Morgan School for Girls in Oakland, California.

Plays/Scenes Covered
Romeo and Juliet
What's On for Today and Why

Students often ask questions about marriage in Shakespeare's day. This activity allows students to examine a primary source from 1604 to help them gain a better understanding of the rules of marriage in the early seventeenth century, and to apply that knowledge to the play in several ways.


This activity will take one to two class periods.

What You Need

Folger edition of Romeo and Juliet
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts

Primary Source Worksheet

17th century document excerpt
17th Century Rules of Marriage
What To Do

1. Make sure the students have completed a careful reading of the play.


2. Hand out the attached worksheet.


3. Explain to students how to read the document (i.e. how to translate the various letters.) You may need to give them this key:
v = u
u = v
i = j
f = s
vv = w

Have them grapple with it silently for a moment, then read it together as a class.


4. Have a brief brainstorming session in which students write for 10–15 minutes about what they think Lord Capulet and Friar Lawrence would think about the document, based upon their behavior in the play.


5. Break the students into small groups, with each focusing on either Lord Capulet or Friar Lawrence. Have each group find the relevant details in the document that relate to their character's ideas about marriage. Then, have each group collectively prepare a statement that demonstrates its own understanding of the document as well as its character's feelings about it.


6. Have a representative from each group present its statement. Encourage the students to present in character.


7. For homework, ask students to choose one of the characters and write a one page paper that expresses the character's more general opinions about marriage. Be sure that they refer to the text of the play to provide evidence for their beliefs. This paper could be written as a letter to the editor, a letter to a parent or child, or a more formal essay. Encourage students to be creative: the one rule is that the written piece must refer to the play as well as to the document they have just examined.


8. Have students read their work out loud, again in character.

How Did It Go?
Did students enjoy and understand the primary source document? Did they have varied opinions about the text and its meanings? Were they effective in expressing different views the different characters would have about marriage? Did their statements reflect an understanding of the text? Did they understand the characters' motivations?

If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.

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  Common Core State Standards

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